Award Winner - May/June 2005
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Sea Lion Aquatic Park
Lisle, Ill.


S u b m i t t e d    b y:


10-acre site; 6,000-square-foot bathhouse; 1,000-square-foot concession building; 1,000-square-foot addition to existing 1,000-square-foot filter building

Project cost:
$8.5 million

Quick tour:

  • X Zero-edge leisure pool
  • X 25-yard, six-lane lap pool
  • X Two water slides with a plunge pool
  • X Zero-edge kiddie pool
  • X Hydrotherapy pool
  • X Teen splash play feature
  • X "Waterworks" pool with two drop-slides and splash play features
  • X Bathhouse with full locker rooms and guard/admission support space
  • X Rental lawns
  • X Concession deck
  • X Sun lawn
  • X Raised spectator deck
  • X Shade components

After nearly a quarter century in use, including an initial renovation, the well-worn Sea Lion Aquatic Park in Lisle, Ill., definitely had seen better days. The pool wall was crumbling, replacement parts were no longer available for the aging filtration system, and an analysis found that even stop-gap maintenance costs would continue to grow exponentially with each new season.

"We formed a committee of users and non-users to see what we might be able to do," says Dan Garvy, assistant director of the Lisle Park District, which includes the 23,000 residents of Lisle and about 10,000 additional people from neighboring communities. Coincidentally, a complete breakdown of the pool's filtration system closed the park for the 2002 season just as Garvy and his staff were starting to look for resident input for the design of a new, improved Sea Lion Aquatic Park.

"Our users had to go to neighboring towns, where the pools are really state-of-the-art," Garvy recalls. "They came back thinking, 'Holy cow, we should get pools like that.'"

High on the community's wish list were features such as age-specific activity zones aimed at all users: a wading and splash play area for parents with young children, more active options for teens, a lap area and so on. In particular, Garvy says, people wanted a design that allowed the majority of the park to stay open even during swim meets, something that had not been possible with the former layout of the park.

At the same time, they wanted to keep it a neighborhood park.

"They didn't want it to be a massive park attracting thousands of out-of-town visitors," Garvy says.

Indeed, there wasn't a lot of space to work with, explains Peter J. Suhr, project architect of Williams Architects in Carol Stream, Ill.

"The site constraints were limiting," Suhr says. "On one side we had an existing community center, on another side we had a property line, on the third side we had a flood plain, and on the fourth side we had another property line, so we had a very tight site to work with."

One space-saving idea was to build the site's runoff retention into the project itself. This was possible using dry detention, rather than collecting pools, and building it in such a way as to provide a sun hill for picnics and sunbathing, a grassy area for volleyball, and so on.

Garvy credits intense community involvement and support with getting the project off the ground. In particular, a committee of residents took it upon themselves to mount an intense campaign in support of the community referendum on funding the project.

"The referendum would never have happened without [the residents' committee]," Garvy says. As it was, the referendum passed by a landslide. "It meant so much, knowing that almost 70 percent of the community was behind us," he says.

The centerpieces of the facility's new attractions are the new zero-depth-edge leisure pool and a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool, although there are seven bodies of water on the site in all, including a plunge pool, a "waterworks" pool with two drop-slides, a pool for toddlers and younger children, and a hydrotherapy pool.

The residents also requested, and received, a larger, more user-friendly bathhouse. The resulting 6,000-square-foot structure was patterned to resemble the seaside architecture of the northeastern United States, Suhr says, with long, low lines, overhanging roof eaves, and artificial stone and wood products used to create a natural stone and cedar-siding appearance without the associated maintenance requirements.

Perhaps most impressive, the entire project— from demolition of the previous structure to installing the last locker in the new bathhouse—was completed almost entirely during one off-season.

"Most people thought we were crazy, building a waterpark in Chicago in the winter," laughs Garvy. "It literally came down to the wire, but it all worked out the way we hoped it would."

With some good lessons along the way.

"It taught me that you can be aggressive without being unrealistic," Garvy says. "I mean, they say good things happen to good people—I guess this was a good thing that happened to a good community."

J u d g e s '   N o t e s

"This project has an innovative approach that integrates the old and the new together in a seamless design."

patricia rotondo

"Wow! This aquatic park is a true community asset. Lisle residents and visitors alike are treated to a colorfully attractive and fun environment that integrates plant materials, rock formations, water features and sand play areas so well, I'm compelled to pack up my kids and drive them to Lisle from Denver."

Steve Blackburn

"Fun and inviting. A lot of unique small bodies of water."

jim maland

A s s o c i a t e d    F i r m s


WT Engineering Co.


Innovative Aquatic Design

Structural engineer

RI Johnson & Associates

construction manager

Williams Development

Landscape architect

Signature Design Group

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